The legendary Minnewaska State Park Preserve brings visitors from near and far, all drawn by the opportunity to hike, bike, and stroll past stunning scenic vistas of the lush valleys below. While this ethereal place was once an inaccessible, cordoned-off ridgetop, available mainly to high-paying hotel guests, the land is now not only protected, but is also being made more welcoming and accessible, all with the help of the Open Space Institute (OSI).
For over three decades, OSI and its partners have left a lasting mark on Minnewaska, not only protecting the property from development early on, but also slowly and steadily doubling the size of the park to its present 24,000 acres; restoring more than 12 miles of once-crumbling carriage roads; and, most recently, unveiling the vibrant Lake Minnewaska Visitor Center.
For many visitors — and for Mark Ruoff, an avid outdoorsman, local community leader, and lifelong Ulster County resident — Minnewaska is a lifeline. For years, the busy father of three has visited the park as frequently as he can, giving him a first-hand, real-time look at how OSI is making the visitor experience enjoyable and rewarding.
“It strikes me every time I go, and in every season, just how well protected and appealing Minnewaska has become,” says Ruoff.
Ruoff speaks glowingly about the new Visitor Center. To create the center, OSI led a $3-million fundraising effort while shaping the building’s architectural designs, developing special features, and spearheading the creation of thoughtful and state-of-the-art educational exhibits.
“Before construction of the Visitor Center, everyone was on their own when it came to navigating the park,” says Ruoff. “But I think the connection and education that the center provides is so useful for visitors and has gone a long way in making all sections of the park more accessible.”
Local resident Barbara Lawrence is also an enthusiastic fan of Minnewaska, and of OSI. Having grown up in Ulster County, she can remember how the tantalizingly beautiful Shawangunk Ridge was once off limits. “I say this all the time — the amount of land protection on the Ridge, and how accessible it is, has completely transformed what it’s like to live in this region,” says Lawrence.
Lawrence especially enjoys OSI’s restoration of the carriage roads. She takes guests for bike rides to scenic vistas — sometimes even catching a glimpse of a red-tailed hawk. “People are astounded that it’s so accessible, just an hour and a half from Manhattan,” she says. “And it’s quite a dramatically beautiful and distinct landscape when you get here.”
Reflecting on a recent winter’s day on the same carriage roads, Ruoff says he was again struck by OSI’s impact when his daughter counted 110 birch trees within the first 20 minutes of skiing.
“When you compare it with other places nearby, the forest is fuller, and not as heavily browsed by deer,” he notes. “OSI has been strategic with their conservation, protecting and creating trails to welcome visitors, while leaving large swaths untouched in other places for the wildlife.”
As we look to the future, OSI will continue to ensure that improvements to Minnewaska help more visitors like Ruoff enjoy the park — so as more and more people use the land, new constituents also grow inclined to care for and protect it.
OSI's Minnewaska Visitor Center campaign was co-chaired by trustee Jennifer Cunningham and Jim Ottaway and was supported by leading donors Lucy R. Waletzky, the Butler Conservation Fund, Laurence Lytton and Janice Kambara, and the Jane W. Nuhn Charitable Trust. A broad array of community donors also joined in making the campaign successful.